Category: Locations (page 1 of 9)

Specific geographical points of interest

Jackson Defeated the British at New Orleans

Peace and the Treaty of Ghent

Fifteen days after the Treaty of Ghent between Britain and the USA was signed, but not ratified (Christmas Eve, 1814), Major General Andrew Jackson defeated the British decisively at New Orleans. Neither the British force, nor Jackson’s Americans had received news of the peace yet. Some erroneously argue that the war was over when the Battle of New Orleans occurred, but the peace agreement did not officially go into effect until it was ratified by each government and received by troops in the field. Of course in the early 19th century, diplomatic issues had to travel by ship across the Atlantic between Europe and North America. This process took between 45 and 90 depending on the sea conditions. The news of the Treaty of Ghent actually made a fast trip across the Atlantic, but not before the actions around New Orleans played out.

Furthermore, some have argued that the Battle of New Orleans meant nothing, because it happened after the Treaty of Ghent. However, the British disputed the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and there is no evidence that they viewed the ownership or the occupation of New Orleans as being covered by the Treaty of Ghent. Therefore, the Battle of New Orleans did establish American control of New Orleans and would no longer disputed by the British after the War of 1812. Had the British taken New Orleans and held it or turned it over to the Spanish, they could have conceivably still contested American ownership.

Fights on Land and Water

Although the final engagement happened on 8 January, 1815, the fighting around New Orleans had been going on since 14 December 1814, starting with a Royal Marine victory over US gunboats guarding the entrance to New Orleans on Lake Borgne. On 23 December, Jackson failed to dislodge the British at their quarters on the Villeré Plantation. Jackson fell back and occupied the approach to New Orleans at the Rodriguez Canal on the Chalmette Plantation. On 28 December, the British probed the line in force, but were repelled. On 1 January 1815, the British attempted to dislodge Jackson with artillery, but the duel ended with the American artillery victorious, probably because they had more ammunition. The Americans had more ammunition due to Jackson’s temporary alliance with the Baratarian pirates, including Jean Lafitte, who hated the British more than the Americans.

Final Battle of New Orleans

Finally, on 8 January, the British executed a frontal assault on the American positions which failed miserably, including the loss of the British Commander, Major General Edward Pakenham. Pakenham was the Duke of Wellington’s Brother-in-Law and hero of the Peninsular Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. He was one of Britain’s best generals, but the British were too sure that the Americans would fold under the sustained assault of seasoned combat veterans from Europe. The historical record is filled full of the opinions of British senior officers with a dismal view of American fighting prowess and leadership. ( I have explored this topic in a longer format, here) However, they had not bargained on the pure cussedness and determination of Old Hickory. Jackson defeated the British in the one of the largest battles and arguably the worst defeat of the British in the War of 1812. The British and the Americans continued to fight in the area in early 1815, not hearing of the peace until 12 February 1815.

Andrew Jackson Defeated the British Motorcycle Ride

Start at Chalmette Battlefield in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park on the site of the 8 January battle and make your way to Louisiana State Route 23, running southeast to the tip of the delta, following the Mississippi River. This will give you a good feel for this unique area and a great view of the USA’s grand old river. New Orleans has always had a rough and ready reputation, so be prepared for detours and some deserted areas. As always, be aware of your surroundings when riding through this area.

The Treaty of Ghent has been exhaustively explored in a brilliant book, The Peace of Christmas Eve that I highly recomend.

 

The Fetterman Massacre of 1866

On 21 December 1866, the US Army suffered its worst defeat in the western Indian Wars up to that time (Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn ten years later would surpass it). Captain  William Fetterman (often referred to by his highest Civil War rank of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel), an officer at Fort Phil Kearney, was given the mission to relieve a wood cutting party who had been attacked by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud.

Background

Even during the USA Civil War, American settlers continued to pour into the American west. The settlers went wherever the latest information told them was a “boom” area. In 1864-65, the boom area was in present day western Montana where gold had been found, mainly around Virginia City. The Bozeman Trail was a widened American Indian hunting trail that cut through the heart of Sioux hunting grounds. The area had been confirmed as Sioux tribal land by the Laramie Treaty of 1848. However, immigrants to the west were not known for putting much stock in Indian treaties when gold was in their eyes. A large train of 2,000 settlers had made the trek along the Bozemen in 1864 which electrified the immigrant news network. Soon many more would follow. Unsurprisingly, the Sioux began to attack the parties. News of the dangerousness of the trail spread, settler numbers dropped, which led to calls for protection by USA forces. Construction on Fort Phil Kearny began the summer of 1866, but without enough numbers to truly protect the settlers on the trail. In fact, there were barely enough troops to protect the fort and its activities itself.

The Fetterman Massacre of 1866

Sioux leaders, most prominently Red Cloud and Crazy Horse (also involved in Custer’s Defeat), began attacking hay and wood cutting parties out of the fort almost from its inception. The fort had established a communications procedure for reporting an attack, so that these provisioning parties could call for help. The Sioux learned that they could attack these parties and create havoc at will. As the frustration built with the soldiers of the fort, the command began to talk of taking the initiative to teach the Sioux a lesson. Enter William J. Fetterman. Traditional history states that Fetterman was out to make a name for himself and had bragged, “With 80 men, I could ride through the entire Sioux nation.” This seems a little suspect given that his upcoming impromptu command had exactly 80 men. However, the general demeanor would not have been unheard of with an officer that had attained senior rank in the Civil War and wanted to improve his chances of regaining that rank in a much smaller Regular Army. George Armstrong Custer and Nelson Miles were two other examples of this phenomena.

December 1866 in northern Wyoming was bitterly cold and wood cutting parties had had a hard time keeping up with the demand for firewood, so Sioux raiding parties had ample opportunities. The Sioux had attacked several of these parties and began to learn that the frustration was building and that enlarged parties were eager to give chase. On 21 December, Crazy Horse used this tactic to lure Fetterman’s relief party of 80 men (53 infantry and civilian on foot and 27 mounted cavalry) out of the fort with an attack on a wood cutting detail.  In fact, the attack on the wood-cutters was a diversion. As Fetterman maneuvered his 80 man unit with the cavalry in the vanguard to attack the Sioux from the flank, the Indians were seemingly fleeing the area into a valley. Contrary to orders from his commander, Colonel Henry B. Carrington, Fetterman gave chase. What happened exactly is not known to the white man’s history, but what was clear from the battle scene was that Fetterman’s unit was led into an ambush. All 81 were killed. The Fetterman Massacre of 1866 entered into lore.

Or…

Or at least, that is the traditional story. A more recent analysis has developed a competing theory that it was not Fetterman who was impetuous, but a junior leader of the party, Lieutenant George W. Drummond. Drummond led a party of 27 cavalrymen from the U.S. 2d Cavalry Regiment (Battlefield Biker’s old regiment). It is quite possible that Drummond’s unit, being on horseback, got too far in front of Fetterman and was ambushed. As Fetterman eclipsed the ridge and found the cavalry decisively engaged, he had little choice, but to ignore Carrington’s orders and try to relieve Drummond’s force. The Sioux had set the perfect trap and destroyed both detachments in order which would explain the battlefield scene found by another relief force that resisted the temptation to enter the valley immediately. The stories are complicated by Drummond’s widow, who later married Carrington, who wrote about the disaster to absolve her husband and Carrington of blame. Captain William J. Fetterman might have been the fall guy for Drummond.

Aftermath

Whatever, the facts of the actual battle, the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, also known as the Fetterman Fight, would prove to put the nail in the coffin of the Army’s attempt to protect the Bozeman Trail. A new Laramie Treaty of 1868 would re-affirm the Sioux ownership of the area and Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned two years after being estblished. The Fetterman Fight was part of what was called Red Cloud’s War and ended up being one of the Plains Indians few unmitigated wins, although the area would become engulfed in war again a decade later.

Fetterman Massacre of 1866 Motorcycle Ride

The Bozeman Trail avoided the mountains, but that is no fun on a motorcycle. My ride recommendation is to go see Fort Phil Kearny, the Fettman Fight site, and the Wagon Box Fight site, then take the Cloud Peak Skyway from Buffalo to Ten Sleep through the Bighorn National Forest and onwards through the Bighorn and Greybull River valleys to Cody, Wyoming. Wonderful country.

The plaque on the Fetterman Massacre Monument

The plaque on the Fetterman Massacre Monument

George Washington Defeats Cornwallis at Battle of Princeton 1777

Background

After the previous British victories in New York and New Jersey in 1776, Continental Army General George Washington had to be lucky, daring, and cunning. In early December 1776, he’d been lucky to get away from the advancing British earlier in the war with a reasonable force left. Later, he made his daring crossing of the Delaware River over Christmas of 1776 where he had surprised Hessian troops serving in the British cause. However, those types of raids would be hard to re-create with the level of surprise that that one had achieved. Therefore, on 3 January 1777, George Washington used his cunning and tactical flexibility to strike a new blow on an over-extended British Army in New Jersey.

The Battle of Princeton 1777

After letting the Americans slip away after the Christmas 1776 attack at Trenton, Washington knew that British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis would not let another opportunity to catch him go to waste. Cornwallis combined most of his British Army forces from Princeton with his Hessian troops around Trenton and took off in pursuit leaving detachments at several locations. On 2 January, Washington had decided to set up defensive positions around Trenton and the British attacked. Washington realized that he could not take on the massed might of the British, so he decided to retreat with a purpose. The Continental Army fought off the British attack with a delaying action that let most of the Continental Army escape overnight. Washington kept most of his 6,000 Continentals intact, but Cornwallis had fatally separated his 8,000 troops into several detachments in New Jersey during the pursuit. Washington saw his opening. Washington managed to evade a decisive engagement with Cornwallis near Trenton, but cunningly looped around to find several smaller British detachments around Princeton. Washington managed to cut off Cornwallis’s rearguard in several short and sharp engagements around Princeton and inflict tactical, but significant defeats on the British.

Aftermath

The retreat from New Jersey across the Delaware River, the Christmas Trenton raid, and the Battle of Princeton had shown Washington to be more than a match for the British Army. General Sir William Howe, Cornwallis’s superior, had seen enough and pulled British forces back closer to New York for the winter. The British were to leave New Jersey soon thereafter to focus on the more strategically important northeast coast. Washington had proven to the British that neither he nor his “ragtag” American troops could be taken easily.

The Battle of Princeton 1777 Motorcycle Ride

Check out west-central New Jersey roughly following Washington’s route from Trenton to Princeton to the Rockingham State Historical Site to Rocky Hill to Hopewell  to Lambertville and down the Delaware River valley to lovely Yardley, PA.

Battle of Raate Road in the Winter War 5 January 1940

Background

Just prior to WWII in Europe, the Soviet Union (Russia) and Germany jockeyed for strategic ground running from the Arctic Ocean through eastern Finland, through the Baltic states, splitting Poland, and down through Romania to the Balkans. The part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact) that agreed to split Poland is better known, but the Baltic states and Finland were to be part of this process too. The Baltic states were too small to fight off the Russians and gave in to lop-sided agreements. The Finns stood up for their borders and refused to give the Soviet Union the access to bases that they wanted. The Soviet Union invaded eastern Finland in late November 1939. The Russian goal was to secure the Gulf of Finland, the strategic rail lines from Murmansk to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and the area around Lake Ladoga north of Leningrad. The Winter War would last a little over three months to early March 1940.

Battle of Raate Road

On 5 January 1940, The Finns began a counter-offensive on the Raate Road, near Suomussalmi that ended up destroying or capturing most of the Russian 44th Rifle Division. In an attempt to relieve the over-extended 163rd Rifle Division near Suomussalmi, the 44th had been halted at a roadblock southeast of Suomussalmi around the present day intersection of roads 912 and 843. The Russians hunkered down along the road between Suomussalmi and Raate in what the Finns called motti formations, a logging term doubling in meaning that the 44th’s sub units could be broken into smaller chunks, enveloped, and cut up individually like so many logs. The Finns operated in small units all along the road and spent days conducting close range grenade attacks and terrifying the Russian officers with highly selective sniper fire. The Russians were out of their mind with cold, hunger, and fear. A single sniper round fired by a Finn marksman would unleash totally undisciplined “mad minutes” from the Russians, normally killing nothing, but trees. Soon, ammunition ran short and re-supply from the air turned the starving troops into in-fighting hordes. After 2 days of this nightmare, the 44th dissolved in death, capture, or flight. It was the high water mark for the Finns and showed the Russians that taking the grossly outnumbered, but skilled Finns would not be a cake walk. Although the Finns lost the war and had to concede land within their borders to the Soviet Union, they retained their sovereignty. The weakness of parts of the Soviet Army also planted the seed of contempt in the German Army’s mind that would later lead the Germans to break the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and invade Russia in the summer of 1941. In his history of the Winter War entitled, Frozen Hell, William R. Trotter has an entire chapter dedicated to the Battle of Raate Road.

Battle of Raate Road Motorcycle Ride

If you find yourself in Finland, try following the road from Kemi to Suomussalmi and on to Raate for a daylong ride. I rode the E75 from Kemi to Oulu and on to Helsinki a few years ago and I can highly recommend the area. If finishing around Kemi look for campgrounds on the Gulf of Bothnia between Oulu and Kemi. Its a beautiful place to wake up (in the summer anyway).

Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great into the Marshes 5 Jan 878

Photo Credit: Odejea [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Beginnings of an English Monarchy

King Alfred the Great of Wessex (Present day western England) was the youngest son of five of King Athelwulf, but did not become king at Athelwulf’s death. The throne went  through most of his older brothers who promptly died, leaving Alfred. After a series of devastating Viking raids from the north of the English isle, Alfred knew that he was too weak to fight off the Vikings that were on his territory in the 870s, so he made a series of treaties, sealed with large quantities of Danegeld, with the Vikings that they promptly broke. Guthrum, the Danish Viking, knew that the Christian Alfred would be celebrating Epiphany on the 12th night (5/6 January) in 878, so Guthrum struck at Chippenham with the hopes of capturing Alfred as well as taking the important town of Chippenham.

King Alfred the Great on the Run

The attack so soon after a peace treaty surprised the English and drove many to France where they arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some say Alfred was in Chippenham that night and fled with his people. Others say he was in Dorchester. Either way,  Guthrum chased King Alfred the Great into the marshes of the Somerset Levels. There Alfred began his guerrilla days fighting out of the marshes and bogs near Athelney. Only a few warriors were with Alfred, but he soon began recruiting local militias throughout modern day Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. By building a resistance force from the ground up, Alfred was able to remain the only major kingdom in modern day England to successfully hold out against the onslaught of the Vikings. This success and eventual victory in southern England is what established the legend of Alfred the Great in Anglo-Saxon history.

Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great Motorcycle Ride

If you have a full day, try the long circular ride from Chippenham to Box and down to Athelney on the A4, then back up to Melksham and Devizes on the A365 and back to Chippenham on the A342. Good biking roads all. The route to Box and Athelney is a likely route that Alfred could have taken out of Chippenham.If you are in the area of Athelney, also check out this ride around the Battle of Langport from the Battlefield Biker English Civil War series. When near Devizes, you can also zip up to Roundway Down to see the site of the English Civil War battlefield of that name from the Battlefield Biker series.

The Second Battle of Springfield, Missouri 8 January 1863

Background

For every Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg in the American Civil War, there were tens of smaller actions that did not involve the great Generals and large numbers of troops. However, these small actions often had real strategic consequences. On 8 January 1863, a Confederate advance led by Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke made an attempt to capture the important Union supply point at Springfield, Missouri. Marmaduke was a 1857 West Point graduate and had been severely wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. He would later be captured at the Battle of Mine Creek. The Supply point, led by Brigadier General Egbert B. Brown, was important to supplying the Union Army of the West. Brown was a former Mayor of Toledo, Ohio and a prominent Missouri grain merchant. He would be severely wounded at Springfield, but survived the end of the Civil War. The battle is unusual in the fact that it involved a substantial amount of urban combat..something fairly uncommon in the Civil War.

Second Battle of Springfield

The Union garrison was warned of the advance with a few hours to spare. The supply post was short on experienced soldiers, but had the advantage of high ground in the form of four earthen forts around the town. Marmaduke was short of one of his three columns, which had been delayed by skirmishing near Hartville, but decided to attack on the morning of 8 January anyway. Marmaduke made several attempts, but failed in each. Most of the fighting occurred around fort number four with Marmaduke trying frontal assaults and flanking movements with little success. As night fell, Marmaduke realized he had lost and retreated back to Arkansas.

The Second Battle of Springfield will never be called a turning point in the USA Civil War, but one could imagine that Vicksburg and the final Mississippi River stronghold of Port Hudson, LA, might not have fallen in July 1863, if Springfield had been lost to the Confederates in January.

Second Battle of Springfield Motorcycle Ride

Follow the general direction that Marmaduke took from Harrison, Arkansas to Springfield, Missouri, through Ozark on US Highway 65.

Battle of Big Sandy River / Middle Creek, Kentucky 10 Jan 1862

Background

On 10 January 1862, Union forces, under Colonel James Garfield, sought to drive out the Confederates, under General Humphrey Marshall, who were recruiting in the vicinity of Paintsville, Kentucky. Garfield was an new Colonel of Ohio volunteers who was to make his name at the Battle of Big Sandy, also known as the Battle of Middle Creek. This fame would eventually propel him to the White House. Marshall, on the other hand, came into the battle with an outstanding reputation from the Mexican War where he led the First Kentucky Cavalry. He was to leave the Battle of Middle Creek with a big question mark over his head.

Battle of the Big Sandy

As Garfield approached from the north, Marshall fell back to Prestonburg along the Middle Creek to take up defensive positions, even though his rebels were not well provisioned. The Confederate cavalry that was to provide a rear screen were surprised by the Federal cavalry as they were breaking camp. The initial rout by the Union forces turned into a bloody pursuit as the recovering Confederates ambushed the pursuing Union cavalry. Garfield pushed on, however, and caught up with the mass of Marshall’s force to the west of Prestonburg. Marshall had taken a strong position and had set a trap along Middle Creek to catch Garfield’s forces as they advanced into a hammer and anvil position. Garfield, who was unsure of Marshall’s positions, sent a small cavalry force into the open area to see where Marshall’s forces were. Marshall fell for the ruse and released the trap too early. Garfield now knew where Marshall had deployed and set to advancing slowly and methodically on the ill-equipped and hungry Confederates. The Battle of Big Sandy was truly one of those Civil War battles where brother fought brother and neighbor fought neighbor. Kentucky units on both sides of the war met in the boggy ground around the creek, sometimes in hand to hand fighting. As the pressure on the Confederates grew into the early evening, Marshall felt he had no choice, but to retire as he feared widespread desertion from his hungry troops.

The overall effect of the Battle of Big Sandy was not decisively in favor of the Union, but the future President James Garfield had made his name in showing that the area could be held by the Union. The fact that eastern Kentucky was now off-limits to the Confederates meant that the Union forces could begin their push into Tennessee with a secure eastern flank.

Battle of the Big Sandy Motorcycle Ride

Check out the scenery on two of Kentucky’s great parkways, the Combs Mountain Parkway and the Hal Rogers Parkway (formerly the Daniel Boone Parkway). Be unique. Be someone who has actually been to the Kentucky Appalachia, rather than a smug jokester about it.

Photo Credit: By American Battlefield Protection Program (National Park Service) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Crittenden Compromise Fails in Senate 16 January 1861

Background

John Jordan Crittenden, one of Kentucky’s most prolific politicians, attempted to broker a compromise to save the Union in the U.S. Senate and avoid civil war. The Crittenden Compromise failed on 16 January 1861 and virtually guaranteed civil war. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed the southern states and new states south of the 36’30” latitude to continue slavery, whilst the northern states and new states north of that line couldn’t. The Compromise of 1850 changed this and allowed the new territories’ residents to vote on the issue regardless if south of the 36’30”.

The Crittenden Compromise

Crittenden tried to mitigate the Compromise of 1850 in favor of the South. However, the Crittenden Compromise was a step too far in reverse for the Republican party which had formed specifically to oppose the expansion of slavery.
Crittenden was especially torn over the issue, as he had one son (Thomas L. Crittenden) and a nephew (Thomas Turpin Crittenden) who fought for the North and one son who fought for the South (George B. Crittenden). In the end, the gulf was just too wide for even a despairing father to stop. J.J. Crittenden died in the middle of the Civil War.

The Crittenden Compromise Motorcycle Ride

If you find yourself traversing western Kentucky on I-24, get off near Eddyville, KY and try the backroads through Crittenden County, Kentucky, named after J.J. Crittenden. It also gives me a good reason to recommend another ferry, and you know the Battlefield Biker likes to put the Red Rover on a ferry. Try the free (well, the KY taxpayer is paying) Cave-in-Rock ferry over the Ohio. This is the Battlefield Biker’s ancestral homeland and they are the back roads that Battlefield Biker learned to ride on as a young boy. Enjoy a little slice of rural Kentucky. From Eddyvile, you are not too far from Fort Donelson either, if you are looking for another local ride.

Photo Credit: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Logan’s Crossroads – 19 January 1862

Background

After the defeat at the Battle of Middle Creek / Big Sandy on 10 January 1862, the Confederates were definitely on the defensive in eastern / central Kentucky. Kentucky was a key area for the Union to establish dominance, both politically and logistically. The long hoped for push into Tennessee by Ulysses S. Grant would be happening in February 1862, so the importance of clearing Kentucky of any serious Confederate forces was paramount to the Union. Not only would Tennessee be open to attack, but the Union would have direct access to the Cumberland Gap through eastern Kentucky and Tennessee to western Virginia. For the south, this area was also critical for supplies for the Confederacy with such staples as salt and mineral mines for ammunition.

Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer was sent to defend the Cumberland Gap and in the winter of 1861/62, he decided to occupy the area south of present day Nancy, Kentucky for winter quarters. Zollicoffer built defenses along both sides of the Cumberland River. Union General George Thomas wanted to break the remainder of the eastern Kentucky forces under General George Crittenden, Zolicoffer’s senior. When Crittenden determined that Thomas was to attack the area, he took personal command of the position.

As Thomas moved into the area in heavy rain, Zollicoffer and Crittenden thought they might be able to split Thomas’s forces by catching them off guard with the swollen Fishing Creek separating Union camps. Zollicoffer took his troops out of their defensive positions in the middle of the night for a forced march through appalling conditions to attack. The forces met at the Battle of Logan’s Crossroads, also known as the Battle of Fishing Creek (not to be confused of the North Carolina Revolutionary War battle of the same name), near Nancy, KY.

The Battle of Logan’s Crossroads

The Confederates achieved some level of surprise in the attack, but Union pickets and a cavalry patrol provided enough alert for Thomas to get his men moving. Crittenden had some early success, but three factors meant the battle was soon to sway in the Union’s favor. First, at least a regiment of Rebels had old flintlock rifles that would not fire in the deluge, so at least 1/8th of the force had to be sent to the rear. Second, Fishing Creek, although swollen, was not impassable, so Thomas was able to bring full force to bear. Finally, the Yankees had a further forces advancing to join the fray.

As if all of this was not enough, Zollicoffer got lost whilst working the lines and met up with Union Colonel Speed Fry. It is not clear as to whether both confused each other intially as friend or foe, but Fry was on the uptick quicker and recognized Zollicoffer for who he was and shot him in the chest. The loss of Zollicoffer threw panic into the closest Rebel brigade which took flight. Their panic sparked the other brigade and soon the Union rout was on. Crittenden got his troops across the Cumberland in a ragged retreat, but was to later be reprimanded on charges of drunkenness at the battle with aspersions being cast about his commitment to the southern cause. His daddy would not have been proud.

The Union was successful in pushing the line across eastern and south-central Kentucky much further south to near the Tennessee line. The stage was now set for attacking down the western ends of the Tennessee River and Cumberland River in western Kentucky and Tennessee at Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862.

The Battle of Logan’s Crossroad Motorcycle Ride

Check out the Cumberland Cultural Heritage Highway for beautiful ride around the area of the battle.

British and Kentucky Riflemen Battle of Frenchtown 22 Jan 1813

Since its shameful fall in August 1812 with scarcely a shot fired in defense, the Americans wanted Detroit back. So embarrassed by it, a winter campaign was conceived to win it back. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, was selected to take back the area and further the American goals in the War of 1812. Harrison’s second in command was General James Winchester. The two split their forces to move on Detroit.

On 18 January 1813, Winchester’s lead elements entered Frenchtown (near modern day Monroe, Michigan) and took it in a short battle with a handful of British Regulars and a couple of hundred of local Indians. The American soldiers were militia that had recently been recruited in Kentucky and marched north with severe privation. The Kentuckians found great stores of food and gorged themselves for several days. Unfortunately, their officers had not ordered them to fortify the area for a counter-attack.

Battle of Frenchtown

A mixed force of British, under Colonel Henry Procter, and Shawnee, under Chief Tecumseh, counter-attacked on 22 January 1813. There followed a fierce battle that would go down as one of the biggest ground battles in the War of 1812. The British and Indians attacked across the American front. The American right flank was enveloped and surrendered, including Winchester. The left flank, however was holding well along a fence in the west of the area. The Kentuckians there were not surprised to see a British truce party arrive, but they were surprised to hear that it was the Kentuckian’s surrender they were after. Winchester had sent word that they should give up. The Kentuckians did surrender, but only with the assurance that the captured would be protected from the Indians.

The British then quickly unoccupied the area of operations for they feared that Harrison’s column would soon descend on Frenchtown. They left the prisoners with Tecumseh’s force. Some, but not all, of the Kentucky prisoners left with the Indians were massacred. The remainder were taken to Detroit for ransom. The Raisin River Massacre became a rallying point for remainder of the war in the old northwest. The event had a solidifying effect on the frontiersman for the war that was not there previously. Future Kentucky units rushed north yelling, “Remember the Raisin!” The area was re-captured by Kentucky cavalry units in September 1813.

Trivia; Although born in Ohio, George Armstrong Custer lived in Monroe as a boy and married a local girl. No doubt, young Custer would have heard the story of the massacre in his local school.

Battle of Frenchtown Motorcycle Ride

Check out the Raisin River Battlefield National Park. Then go from the Raisin River Battlefield Visitor’s Center and follow the Raisin River out to Raisinville, Dundee and back to Monroe to the Sterling State Park.

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